Get clear on the concern or opportunity you see and what you’re committed to. What specifically are you concerned about? Regarding this concern, do you have specific examples/instances from your own experience that you can point to? What outcome are you looking to create by managing up that would make a real difference for your manager, you, your team or the organization? Why does this matter? How does this impact/expand the potential for the team, the work and the mission of your company?
Get their world. Get curious about what it’s like to walk in their shoes. What challenges are they up against? What are they committed to creating through this work? What’s important to them? Why might the thing you’re concerned about not be a priority in their world?
Remember their humanity. Then have empathy and humility. There’s a really good chance your manager is simply trying to do the best they can do – and that you don’t know everything they’re up against. Like the rest of us, they have blind spots – however few people are courageous enough to point these out to them. Those in leadership often get gossiped about – talked about behind their backs – more than any other group as people seek agreement and validation about their manager’s performance. Don’t participate in or perpetuate this gossip – and if you already have, then this conversation is just that much more pertinent.
Doublecheck your intentions. If you’re coming from righteous assumption, impatience or judgement (“my boss should”) – stop and reconsider your intentions. Come from a place of care, concern and curiosity. Be a stand for their success and committed to increasing their leadership capacity.
Then have courage. Stand in your commitment rather than your fear. And remember, you’re the one. Hoping someone else will step up and say something is likely not going to happen. And if you don’t share your concern, or the opportunity you see for your manager, you’re simply standing by like everyone else and watching their credibility get chipped away day after day. Managing up is some of the most courageous demonstration of leadership that you can show.
Speak to their commitment, request permission and find a time when your manager can be present. Don’t surprise your manager with unexpected and unrequested advice. Instead, speak to:
I know you’re committed to X (the team, the mission, continuous improvement, development, candid feedback etc.)
When you have a few minutes of focused time, I’d like to share with you an opportunity I see for you that would make a difference for X (our working relationship, the team, the project, communication between departments etc.)
Would you be open to that? Or is there a good time we can sit down and talk through this?
Lead with vulnerability and acknowledge what you appreciate about them. Start off by sharing if you’re nervous or that it’s hard for you to point this concern out because of the power differential – and that you think of them more than “just as my boss.” Acknowledge that like just about everyone on the team, you know s/he is working hard to do their best and that you value their X (commitment, expertise, mentorship, etc.)
Then speak to your intention. “I’m bringing this up because I think it will make a difference in X. And if I was in your shoes, I would want my team member to have the courtesy of bringing this concern to me directly.”
Remember, be kind, candid and constructive. Energetically show up from a place of caring. Be clear and concise about your concern. Be clear about the impact that your concern is having on the work, the team and/or accomplishing the mission of company.
Then listen. Really listen. Be fully present and really get their world about what you just shared. What are their thoughts? What do they see? Then let them know you really heard them and restate in a combination of their words and your own words what they shared – reflecting the commitment and emotion behind what they shared.
If possible and appropriate, co-create ideas for solutions.